Every couple of months, 24 university and gap year students board the 112-ft schooner Argo. They spend 3 months learning to sail, scuba dive, and taking a full course load of college classes – marine biology, oceanography, nautical science, and student leadership development. Living what they learn, they study fish and marine invertebrates, and then they dive and get to observe the organisms in their natural habitats. They learn in the classroom about COLREGS (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) and navigation, and then get to practice by identifying lights of passing boats and planning passages.
They also learn some things they maybe didn’t think of when signing up for the program, such as how to cook a meal for 30 people or wax off rust. These students come together with 6 staff for a program called Seamester. Based out of the United States, Seamester runs two vessels throughout the year for 3-month long programs. One vessel, Ocean Star, remains in the Caribbean, while Argo has circumnavigated the world twice. I boarded Argo to work as the marine biology instructor just over a year ago in French Polynesia; we made our way first to Australia, then towards Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia.
Argo has spent most of her time in past the half a year in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, including stops in Bali, the Gili Islands, Borneo, Langkawi, Phuket, Krabi Phi Phi, Similans, Tioman, Terrenganu, Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Koh Chang, and Bangkok. This area is full of beautiful islands with dramatic cliffs, gorgeous beaches, and amazingly green hills and mountains.
We loved visiting Bali for the culture – we saw a performance of the Ramayana at the Uluwatu Temple and took a group surf lesson down at the beach. In Borneo we took Argo up the Kumai River and then got on smaller river boats that took us up into the rainforest, where we got to see orangutans – definitely a highlight of the trip. Phi Phi and Krabi had the most amazing geologic formations, and I think getting to look out at the cliffs that dropped straight down into the water was one of my favorite views since I have been on Argo.
In Terrenganu we were given a tour of the local boatbuilding yard, where they still make fishing boats completely out of wood, and in Tioman we enjoyed hiking through the trees across the island and relaxing on the beautiful beaches. All of the Thai islands in the Gulf of Thailand are beautiful, and we greatly enjoyed diving on Koh Tao and relaxing on the beach in Koh Chang.
Argo has a special connection to Thailand in particular, as she was built at the Marsun Shipyard in Bangkok. As I write this she and I are back at the same Shipyard for a refit.
Argo has competed several times in the King’s Cup Regatta in Phuket, and I was lucky enough to be part of that experience last December. It was an amazing culmination of the semester onboard for our students, getting to participate in such a race. The final day of the race we invited a group of local kids who were competing in the dinghy sailing races. They had never been on such a large sailboat, and it was a great experience for both groups to work together to sail Argo in the final race. We didn’t fair particularly well in terms of results, but we all had a great time!
I can now see why so many people from around the world love to come sail and live in Southeast Asia. Friendly and welcoming people, beautiful beaches and scenery, delicious and amazingly cheap food. Argo will soon be sailing back around the world, headed towards South Africa. She’ll be back though, so if you are in Southeast Asia be sure to keep an eye out in another 2-3 years for beautiful schooner!
Written by Carolyn Kovacs, marine biology instructor and mate aboard Argo.
Find out more about Argo and Seamester check out the company website at www.seamester.com.
To read more about the travel and adventures of Carolyn and the crew of Argo check out the blog